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Discovery Channel’s “Explore Uttarakhand”

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We, the Citizens

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

We congratulate our state’s Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj and our Tourism Secretary Dilip Jawalkar for a job well done. On the 20th and 21st of February, we enjoyed a very professional, and appealing TV projection of our beautiful Uttarakhand.

This, presumably, had received an OK from CM Trivendra Singh Rawat, who has expressed a love for tourism. As the most promising industry of our state, Tourism deserves his affection. Sadly, events over the last one year, and more, have shown that our government has taken decisions that appear to benefit rapacious ‘developers’ rather than the citizens of Uttarakhand! But we shall put those unhappy events aside and turn to the very pleasant manner in which Explore Uttarakhand was presented.

To start with, this was excellently targeted to reach the most responsive audience: the rich and restless youth of India. The rich, because tourism is the business of travel. And business is the activity of making money for those who have invested in it. It is better to attract one person who spends Rs 1 lakh at a destination, than 1,00,000 people who spend just Rs 1 each! The restless, because only they will pander to their craving for the adrenalin rush of adventure sports. A significant part of Explore Uttarakhand was devoted to such challenging activities.

Then, there was the choice of the Presenter. She was friendly, bilingual, and natural. The viewer could relate to her in contrast to some of the sweet young things that occasionally pop up on the screen: all breathless, bubbly and superficial! When this guide felt exhilarated, she gushed; when she was scared, she hesitated. Incidentally, we would have edited out the bungee-jumping episode. For some reason this pleasant woman was prevented from taking the leap, so what was the purpose of showing that segment in the first place?

We were particularly delighted with the two sequences that showed local chefs cooking local dishes using pahari ingredients. One of our government’s most spectacular failures has been its inability to promote Uttarakhandi cuisine, particularly Garhwali cuisine. Our tourism authorities use the tag line Simply Heaven. We have our own views on its effectiveness but we will put that aside for the moment. If, indeed, we believe that Uttarakhand is Dev Bhoomi, than it follows that those divine beings relished food made from local products. So, why are we not researching, adapting and promoting dishes made from ingredients grown in our highland farms? Are our netas not aware of the multiple effects of increasing the acceptance of such food? It will reverse migration from the hills, tap into the growing interest in the great outdoors, and strengthen our border security.

Yes, we have said this earlier. And, yes, we will say it again and again and again till our netas begin to realise that the felling of trees and the peddling of timber is not the only path to prosperity. To the contrary!

We appreciated the segment on Yoga. This amazing discipline originated in India but we can no more claim ownership of it than China can claim ownership of Tea, Ethiopia of Coffee or Myanmar of Rubber. The Beatles wrote some of their most popular songs in an ashram in Uttarakhand. But it did not change their religious convictions and there is no evidence that anyone tried to do that. Yoga could give a spiritual experience to them so could prolonged deprivation, or contact with a powerful personality. Sensibly, in these two episodes, yoga was not promoted as a religious experience but as an activity available to people of all faiths and beliefs.

The little segment on the man who makes didgeridoos was interesting but irrelevant. This woodwind is used as a ritual instrument by the Australian aborigines. Also, significantly, by tribes in Maharashtra’s Dangs. It is significant because people from this Indian region could have colonised Australia and become the Aborigines. The didgeridoo is not associated with Uttarakhand!

We included Uttarakhand in some of our half-hour episodes when we pioneered All-India TV travel documentaries. This is a great medium to promote tourism as, both, Odisha and even Kashmir have re-discovered recently. But, Mr. Trivendra Singh Rawat, Mr. Satpal Maharaj, and Mr. Dilip Jawalkar, “Once is not enough”!

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)